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How We: Got Married At The National Mall


Simple, sunny, upbeat, and fun!

Stephanie, travel writer & Michael, computer programmer

How We: Got Married At The National Mall | A Practical WeddingPlanned Budget: $10,000

Actual Budget: $12,000

Number of Guests: 38

How We: Got Married At The National Mall | A Practical WeddingHow We: Got Married At The National Mall | A Practical Wedding

Where we allocated the most funds

I spent months trying to find the perfect venue for the hundred-person outdoor wedding I had imagined, before I realized that it is crazy expensive to get married in the DC area. After some wailing and hair ripping we finally decided to cut our guest list way back, and after that things fell into place surprisingly easy.

Our biggest expense by far was food and drink, which made up nearly half of the entire budget. I was lucky to stumble onto the Beacon Bar and Grill in Dupont Circle, which had a lovely private event space and only charged us for what we ate and drank—no rental fee! Since our guest list was small we wanted to make sure the food and more importantly, the beer, were great. We had an open bar up to $1000, which turned out to be plenty for our four-hour reception. Afterwards people headed upstairs to party at the hotel’s rooftop bar.

Parking downtown is a huge pain in the butt so we used Uber for all of our transportation needs and to get everyone from the ceremony to the reception. It ended up running us around $300 but was totally worth it. All of the older guests thought it was very “high-tech.”

How We: Got Married At The National Mall | A Practical Wedding

Where we allocated the least funds

Music and photography were two areas where we saved a ton of money. Despite the fact that Michael is a former wedding DJ, we opted not to have one at all, instead going with a carefully curated iTunes playlist. It worked well and everyone ended up dancing by the end of the night. All of the local photographers in the DC area were charging upwards of $4,000 so we decided it was cheaper to fly our photographer friend Erica in from Austin. We paid for her flight and hotel stay and she very generously did our wedding photography as a gift.

We also tried to cut costs on many of the smaller details. I cashed in my credit card points to help pay for the hotel. The invitations were ordered off of Paperless Post for only $119. Our minimal reception decorations (think candles in Mason jars) cost about $200 total.

Overall I was really happy with how we chose to spend our money.

How We: Got Married At The National Mall | A Practical Wedding

What was worth it

My favorite detail was probably the cake, which was from the local bakery, Cake Love, and was a huge hit! Instead of having a wedding cake we just ordered 3 separate cakes—cheaper and people could choose which flavor they wanted. We even ordered some gluten free cupcakes for those with dietary restrictions. I am also glad that my mother insisted we have professional hair and make-up done. I looked and felt terrific!

How We: Got Married At The National Mall | A Practical Wedding

After some planning mix-ups we ended up hiring a florist just three weeks before the wedding. The flowers turned out fine, and I particularly loved my bouquet (wrapped in lace from my mother’s wedding dress!), but I wish we’d just come up with some non-floral centerpieces and skipped the headache.

I’m not crafty but I’m good at outsourcing. Etsy was my best friend when it came to planning the (minimal) decorations. Since travel is a large part of our lives, we adopted the Pixar movie Up! as our decoration theme. We had a hot air balloon cake topper, picture frame escort cards, and a thumbprint guestbook featuring the house from the movie, all handmade by someone else on Etsy.

How We: Got Married At The National Mall | A Practical WeddingHow We: Got Married At The National Mall | A Practical Wedding

My best practical advice to my planning self

Stay away from Pinterest. That place is a rabbit hole of unrealistic possibilities that will slowly drive you mad.
Our ceremony venue was the DC War Memorial, an absolutely gorgeous Grecian monument near the Reflecting Pool. It only cost us $50 to get a permit and we didn’t need a single decoration—the place was so elegant and beautiful just as it was. Afterwards we were able to take amazing wedding photos around the Tidal Basin and the Lincoln Memorial.

How We: Got Married At The National Mall | A Practical WeddingHow We: Got Married At The National Mall | A Practical Wedding

Anything else you want to add?

Everyone had a massive sixty minutes of panic when our officiant showed up nearly an HOUR late. We almost had to commission my uncle to do a mock-ceremony. Luckily the guy finally appeared, just minutes before I was set to walk down the aisle.


The Info:

Photographer: Erica Kuschel | Location: The National Mall, Washington, DC | Venue: The DC War Memorial, with Reception at the Beacon Hotel | Stephanie’s Dress: Eliza J from Nordstrom | Stephanie’s Shoes: Jessica Simpson | Michael’s Suit: Brooks Brothers

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  • Jessica

    I love this! We met in DC and my fiancé’s still there so initially this was the sort of wedding I was going for. Instead we’re going to do something similar in our new city, NYC. But great tip on Uber! We have some older relatives so this would be great for them. Also great idea on capping the open bar. We were wondering what to do with that… We’re doing the cakes like you did. So glad many of the same practical things we are doing worked so well for you!

    • kaudad

      about the open bar options – we couldn’t afford a true ‘open bar’, so we (in-laws & hubs and I) decided how much to spend on booze, then bought some kegs and wine outright from the venue. that was used as the ‘free’ / ‘open bar’ option for those who wanted it. Once it was gone, you were on your own and had to pay for your drinks if you wanted something else. the wine ran out early, but the kegs lasted all night. so, we paid for what we could and it turned out fine.

      • Jessica

        Same Jessica again – that’s a great idea. I’ll ask our reception restaurant about that. We have some non-drinkers for religious reasons so we’ve been trying to figure out the best way to handle this. We want to offer beer & wine… But don’t want things too get out of control either.

  • Laura

    Hooray for DC War Memorial weddings! We got married there 2012. Can’t beat a $50 location fee.

  • Emmers

    I love this! What a happy seeming wedding! You’re making me smile today. I hope our wedding has a happy feel like this.

    And I really appreciate this advice:
    “Stay away from Pinterest. That place is a rabbit hole of unrealistic possibilities that will slowly drive you mad.”

    • Jules

      This was my FAVORITE quote. Yet as I looked at the pictures, I couldn’t help but think that this was a seriously well-styled wedding that seemed to stay true to bride, groom, and budget. Great post.

  • Ella

    Yay! I took engagement pictures on the mall by the reflecting pool, and we got engaged on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It’s a really special place for me. So awesome you got married there! :) :) Congrats!

  • Kayjayoh

    “Everyone had a massive sixty minutes of panic when our officiant showed up nearly an HOUR late. We almost had to commission my uncle to do a mock-ceremony. Luckily the guy finally appeared, just minutes before I was set to walk down the aisle.”

    Oh, geez, heart attack time!

    Everything looks like it was beautiful and a great time. And I really want some of that cake.

    • Stephanie

      At least I’ll always have the memory of my dad slipping me whisky (from his hidden flask naturally), to try to calm me down…

  • Sarah from MA

    WHERE did you get the cute little gold frames that are used to label (I assume) the cake flavors. I love them!

  • LE

    I love this! Thanks for sharing. Re: Uber–how did that work for you guys? Did you have everyone order their own cabs/cars or did you someone organize it all yourself? I am an Uber newbie, but we are considering it for our wedding.

    • Stephanie

      I designated one of my friends the Uber Point Person and had her order cars using my account and my fiance’s account. That way we didn’t have to deal with it when we were busy taking pictures and such.
      I was pretty nervous about it but it worked out well.

      • LE

        Ooo. Love the idea of designating someone as “Uber Point Person.” Thanks for the help!

  • MerlyBird

    I’m *in love* with the Woman of Honor’s shawl/jacket/cardigan. Any clues on where it’s from? Also, totally digging the historical element — I love places with stories!

    • Kim

      Thanks! I got it from Ebay. Brand: Kite and Bufferly Efume Wrap sold by BHLDN

  • Lisa

    And if right about now Über isn’t putting together a wedding package deal I need to talk to them:). I love that you got married right there on the Mall.

    • JDrives

      YES to an Über wedding package! We will be contacting them a few months before our wedding to see if they can work something out with us – we take Über all.the.time and our venue is in the middle of a downtown grid. Working with Über would be ideal!

    • Stephanie

      You know, we actually did contact Uber beforehand. They offered us a coupon code but that was about it. Wish they could have helped in coordinating where the drivers needed to be when so we didn’t have to manually order them.
      Still happy we used them though! My favorite was the Uber driver who drove me to the ceremony- he stopped to take a picture!

  • JDrives

    “I’m not crafty but I’m good at outsourcing.” You and me both (fist bump!). Love the awesome historical setting and the UP theme :)

  • http://writemeg.com/ Meg

    Oh, I have always loved the D.C. War Memorial — what a gorgeous place for a wedding! Looks like a happy day, and I could definitely relate to not falling into the Pinterest trap and the need to get creative to avoid expensive D.C.-area weddings. Sounds and looks like yours was just wonderful. Congrats!

  • EmilyRose

    “Stay away from Pinterest. That place is a rabbit hole of unrealistic possibilities that will slowly drive you mad.” So refreshing to hear this. I have actually given up Pinterest for Lent (and hopefully forever afterwards) as I just can’t take it any more. All the weddings on there are starting to blend into one tastefully saccharine pinky-grey drape-y wedding anyway!

  • anndress

    anndress.comone of the most experienced bridal retailer.

  • Anna Hogan

    I am embarking on a similar adventure. Related to music, we really want to do a carefully curated playlist…but I’m concerned with what to do about music at the ceremony? It’s going to be very non-traditional, with a friend marrying us and us giving our own vows. But I’m worried without music my walk down the aisle will seem really odd and akward. Am I overthinking?

    • http://www.twenty-somethingtravel.com Stephanie

      Do you have any friends you can ask to provide music. Can’t remember if I mentioned it above but my friend is a gifted violin player so we asked her to play at our ceremony as her wedding gift. To be honest, I have no memory of her playing as I walked down the aisle- everything else was just too intense!